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Fullerton’s Rangers: A History of the New Mexico Territorial Mounted Police

by Chuck Hornung, McFarland & Company, Jefferson, N.C., 2005, $45.

Although the Wild West had allegedly ended in most places by 1890, the wild days continued in the territories. At the turn of the century, New Mexico Territory was a cultural mosaic (native Indians, Mexicans, Anglos, etc.) deeply divided by political factions and lacking sufficient law and order. These problems prevented New Mexico from achieving statehood until 1912. But back in 1905, the Land of Enchantment took an important step in controlling its wild ways with the birth of the New Mexico Mounted Police, headed by Captain John F. Fullerton.

Author Chuck Hornung, a Western historian and president of the New Mexico Mounted Police Historical Society, first describes New Mexico at the turn of the century (mostly farm and ranch lands, but growing and in need of more public safety), as well as early attempts to form such a police force (a Mounted Police Bill failed to pass in 1899, and special range detectives were used instead). Arizona Territory lawmakers got the jump on its neighbor by forming a mounted police force called the Arizona Rangers in 1901. The success of the Arizona bunch, on top of the famous exploits of the Texas Rangers, convinced New Mexico that it needed its own rangers, especially since, as the Santa Fe New Mexican reported, the territory “is overrun with stock thieves and other outlaws including murderers from Arizona and Texas.” Governor Miguel A. Otero signed the Mounted Police Act on February 15, 1905, and appointed Fullerton captain on March 19.

Hornung does a thorough job of detailing the challenging first year of the group, which was made up of ordinary family men doing a dangerous job—mostly tracking missing livestock trails and bringing in hard cases who had committed livestock crimes. Fullerton’s Rangers made 72 official arrests in their year of active field operation. Deputy U.S. Marshal Fred Fornoff impressed new Governor Herbert Hagerman and replaced Fullerton in April 2006. “Captain Fullerton’s nonrenewal was not a purely political move and may have been to some degree just personal spite,” writes Hornung.

Fornoff was still serving as captain when the territorial police became New Mexico’s first state police force. Fornoff’s Boys, as they were known, were funded by the state Legislature until December 1913, though a similar mounted police force was on the scene as late as 1921. Hornung’s 259-page book covers a practically forgotten law enforcement outfit in fine fashion, and don’t miss the foreword written in June 1969 by Fred Lambert, the last living territorial mounted policeman.


Originally published in the October 2006 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here